3 Savvy Swaps for PCOS and pregnancy
So, you have PCOS and you are also having, or trying for, a baby? Don’t worry, these easy swaps may help you to manage PCOS before, during and after pregnancy.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, also known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a common female hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 7 women during their reproductive years. Its cause is unknown but thought to be hereditary (you have a 50% chance of passing it to your daughter). It can result in varied symptoms including limited chance of falling pregnant, early miscarriage, weight gain, insulin resistance and long-term increased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the symptoms can be different for everyone. Many women don’t even know they have it until they experience difficulty falling pregnant.
How can this affect my chances of falling pregnant?
Up to 75% of women with PCOS report having trouble conceiving. This is thought to be due to high insulin levels causing the production and release of male hormones which reduces the frequency and regularity of ovulation and menstruation. Weight gain, a common complication of PCOS, especially around the tummy area, is also linked with decreased chances of falling pregnant.
But I am already pregnant. How does this affect me now?
Congratulations! Part of the struggle for many women with PCOS involves difficulty ovulating and conceiving, so you have overcome this major hurdle.
Now it may be tempting to relax your approach to diet, however you need to be more diligent than ever in order to avoid complications to you and your baby. Such complications of PCOS in pregnancy include an increased risk of early miscarriage, a high risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and underweight babies/premature birth.
3 ways you can improve the symptoms of PCOS before or during pregnancy
Whilst PCOS is a complicated condition with many symptoms, these three tips are simple, effective and suitable whether you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
1. Lower your Glycaemic Load (GL)
Keeping our GL low by combining low to moderate-GI foods with healthy fats, plenty of low-GI vegetables and lean meat and dairy, plus enjoying these foods within smaller, well-spaced, high fibre meals helps reduce blood glucose spikes and our need for insulin.
Finding out the GI and GL is easy with the University of Sydney’s GI database. Check it out here:
Your dietitian can help personalise these foods for you.
2. Increase your healthy fats and quality proteins
Some fats are good for us and necessary for many important body functions including reducing inflammation, unhealthy fat gain and cholesterol, improving insulin sensitivity and to benefit your baby’s brain and nervous system development.
Omega-3s, sourced from fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are healthy fats that are recommended at least 2-3 times weekly to gain these benefits.
Additionally, reducing your saturated fat intake by limiting fatty and processed meat, cakes and pastries, fried and takeaway foods and switching to low-fat dairy may also be beneficial to reduce these common PCOS issues.
Your dietitian can help by suggesting swaps that fit with your likes/dislikes and by providing you delicious recipes and meal plans to help support you.
3. Reduce your insulin resistance with exercise
The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily for people living with chronic disease. Exercise is important with PCOS as it causes our muscles to become more sensitive to insulin and to use more glucose, reducing blood glucose levels and the risk of developing diabetes.
If your doctor says you can, try gradually increasing your time spent on moderate activity each day, including brisk walking, stair climbing and swimming.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has also been found to be especially beneficial for people with PCOS as it builds muscle and improves insulin resistance. If 60 minutes a day seems overwhelming, try splitting your exercise sessions into fifteen-minute intervals or join a local pregnancy yoga, aqua aerobics or walking group.
We recommend seeing an Exercise Physiologist who can help develop a plan for you.
In a nutshell
There are many and more simple things you can do to reduce the impact PCOS may have on your and your baby’s health.
Some of these include enjoying a lower glycaemic load, including good fats and proteins from fatty fish and low-fat dairy, and increasing your exercise levels.
These swaps can help avoid blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance, benefitting your baby’s development and helping you to have the best pregnancy possible.
For further information, see the reading list below and talk to your friendly Dietitian today for personalised advice.
Thanks to student dietitian Mandy Gibson for her contribution to this post.
Accredited Practising Dietitian Sally Marchini at Marchini Nutrition is one of the specialist dietitians from the Australia-wide network Nutrition Plus who offer more than just nutrition advice - they offer experience, problem solving, understanding and most importantly compassion to assist you on your health journey in preconception, pregnancy, postnatally and for specific health concerns. Sally can be contacted via her Marchini Nutrition website, the Nutrition Plus website, by telephone on 02-4971-0770, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
References and further reading:
Moran LJ, Brinkworth GD, Norman RJ. Dietary therapy in polycystic ovary syndrome. Semin Reprod Med. 2008;26(1):85-92. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-992928
Brusie C, Falck S. What you should know about polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and pregnancy [Internet]. NY:Healthline Media;2005-2019 [updated 2016 Jan 7; cited 2019 Nov 26]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/pcos
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Does PCOS affect pregnancy? [Internet]. Rockville, MD:NICHD; [updated 2017 Jan 31; cited 2019 Nov 26]. Available from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pcos/more_information/FAQs/pregnancy
Homburg R. Pregnancy complications in PCOS. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2006;20(2):281-92. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2006.03.009
Norman RJ, Davies MJ, Lord J, Moran LJ. The role of lifestyle modification in polycystic ovary syndrome. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2002;13(6):251-57. Doi: 10.1016/S1043-2760(02)00612-4
Whelan C, Weatherspoon D. Can my diet relieve symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)? [Internet]. NY:Healthline Media;2005-2019 [updated 2018 Nov 2; cited 2019 Nov 27]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/pcos-diet
The University of Sydney. Search for the Glycemic Index [Internet]. Sydney:The University of Sydney;2019 [updated 2019 Nov 26; cited 2019 Nov 29]. Available from: www.glycemicindex.com/